UN Member States and NGOs Discuss Improving Civil Society Engagement at the UN


New York – On June 19, UN Member States and civil society organizations gathered at UN Headquarters to discuss the UN Committee on NGOs and how to improve the process for accrediting NGOs with consultative status. The event was co-sponsored by states and NGOs, including France, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Freedom Now, International Service for Human Rights, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Conectas Human Rights, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT/FIDH). A video of the event can be viewed here.

Ambassador François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the UN, opened the meeting with remarks about the invaluable contributions made by civil society to the work of the UN. “The value that civil society brings to building inclusive, tolerant and resilient societies domestically is well recognized, but there should also be no doubt surrounding the indispensable contribution of NGOs to the work of the UN on all agenda items from human rights to development and international peace and security. Civil society brings enthusiasm, a fresh perspective, and valuable expertise which can enrich the discussions and deliberations of Member States.”

Participants at the event heard from a geographically diverse panel of civil society representatives who have navigated the accreditation process with varying degrees of success. Speakers included Robert Mahoney, Deputy Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Janet Love, National Director of Legal Resource Centre; Camila Asano, Foreign Policy Coordinator for Conectas Human Rights; and Henri Tiphagne, executive board member of the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

Both Mr. Mahoney and Ms. Love discussed their difficulties in obtaining accreditation on behalf of their organizations through the NGO Committee, highlighting the fact that the body is acting as a gatekeeper to civil society access. Ms. Asano stressed the importance of diversifying voices at the UN, particularly those from the Global South. Finally, Mr. Tiphagne detailed how the International Dalit Solidarity Network has struggled to bring its message to the UN after a decade of persistent obstructions and deferrals on its application.

Maran Turner, Executive Director of Freedom Now, outlined numerous possible options for reform, including diversifying membership, ensuring regular interaction with civil society, establishing safeguards against arbitrary delay or denial, providing more ECOSOC oversight, and creating a new accreditation system.

A subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the 19 member NGO Committee is tasked with approving applications from NGOs for consultative status with the UN. This process is especially politicized and in recent years has become mostly dysfunctional. States openly antagonistic to civil society and fearful of having their dismal human rights records at home exposed have used Committee membership as yet another weapon to silence independent voices and legitimate organizations. Committee members, including China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, and South Africa, have increasingly used a number of procedural tactics to endlessly delay the application process for certain organizations.

Despite these obstacles, several Member States have made public calls for reform.  A positive development occurred this past April when ECOSOC members demonstrated a commitment to improving working methods when they approved a resolution to webcast all public meetings of the Committee by a vote of 37-0 with 16 abstentions. The May session of the Committee was webcast for the first time in the body’s history.

“We are inspired by the tremendous interest in improving transparency and accountability at the NGO Committee, particularly from Member States,” said Ms. Turner. “This event was a crucial step in working with Member States to ensure that the UN is fulfilling the needs of civil society.”

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